Elton John is right to slag off Dolce and Gabbana. If I had the money to afford their clothes and the lack of taste to want them, I would boycott them too, but seeing as I don’t, and I don’t, it’s largely irrelevant to me personally. What isn’t irrelevant, though, is that the tedious prejudiced idiots of D&G have simply expressed a view that, while particularly odious for punishing gay parents, is representative of something that is quite widely held: people who don’t have kids shouldn’t have kids if they can’t have kids. In other words, IVF is bad.
A lot of people really don’t like the idea of IVF. I am not sure what it is about it that makes it so unpalatable for so many, but I guess it’s something about ‘interfering with nature’ or ‘making Frankenstein babies’. I do like IVF. I think it’s the most amazing thing in the world. And I’ll explain to you why.
We first starting “trying for a baby” – oh god, that awkward, clumsy little phrase, and yet I still years later can’t think of anything better – about five years ago. You try everything. You try measuring cycles. You try eating different foods. You try everything. You’ll do anything. Time passes and it gets worse and worse, that aching feeling inside you that something is wrong.
After a couple of years of trying, you’re allowed by Auntie NHS to find out what’s up, if anything. We went to find out. It was me. “Oligospermia”, it’s called, which essentially means there aren’t enough, and even the ones that are around aren’t particularly good.
I can remember finding out. You remember a lot of rooms and clinics and places you go to where you see sad couples holding hands in hope rather than expectation. You don’t really acknowledge the other people there, but you know you have this same shared dream, and same shared little pain. I was in one of those rooms. But I wasn’t in the room, either. It was a warm day. The blinds were fluttering and breathing by the window. The sun was outside. I just found myself floating out of those windows, right then, right there. It was as if all my dreams ended, right there. Or at least, they could have done.
Twenty years ago, that would be that. There wasn’t the technology to do anything about it. If we did have IVF, it would be with a donor. It would be without part of me. But now there’s a procedure called ICSI which means the sperm can be placed right inside the egg, to fertilise it.
That doesn’t mean, boom, everything is lovely. More clinics. More waiting. More tests. More rooms. More tablets. Waiting. Hours and days and weeks. As a man, you have the easiest of simple jobs, if slightly embarrassing: masturbating into a plastic beaker then handing it over to someone through a hatch. But that’s nothing. My partner has had to go through so much worse. Drugs, drugs and more drugs. Physical pain. Waiting. Going through discomfort on a daily basis to try and get ready for the eggs to ripen. Even then, not knowing if it will work.
More waiting. More tests. More rooms in clinics. More gazing into fish tanks. More waiting to be called. Making tiny lives, tiny potential lives, tiny lives. Will it work… will it work… will it work? No. No, it hasn’t worked. The agony of that floors you, more than you could ever imagine that it would. You know that you have to try, and you know what you were risking when you tried to get there… but that doesn’t stop it from being there, that thing that digs inside of you and makes you fall to your feet, that feeling of failure.
The doubts begin. Maybe they were right, all those voices you heard. Maybe it just isn’t meant to be. Maybe it will all be this way, forever, and that’s something you’re going to have to live with. It’s all the hurt of grief without death, without a coffin to bury, without anything to say goodbye to. As ever, again, for the woman, there is something physical. Something you can see. Something even more difficult, and bloodier.
You go through all that, and you wonder whether you could ever start again. Could you go through that again? For us, it wasn’t just a struggle of the mind, or a test or our emotional selves, but a financial question too. Where we live, you just get one chance on the NHS to make a baby; if you can’t get it right first time, you have to pay – through the nose, in full, several thousand pounds. We are lucky enough to be able to make that choice, challenging though it is to afford it.
Harder than the financial cost, though, is the battle you have to face with yourselves. You don’t realise at first just how much you’re knocked out by the impact of what has happened to you. You made something, and it was alive, and then it wasn’t. You can’t help casting your eyes up to the sky and asking what it was about you that meant you deserved this, or didn’t deserve that other thing, the thing that you wanted so much, but weren’t allowed to have because of circumstances.
I don’t even know how we got the strength to get there, but we tried again. More rooms. More clinics. More appointments. More pain and discomfort and worry. More stress. More waiting for something to go wrong. And then… and then it happens. You don’t believe it at first. You wait for something to change. But it doesn’t change. You see a face. Fingers. You see a tiny person grow. A tiny life that you want to look after more than anything in the world.
I know people believe in the strangeness of ‘nature’ or ‘mother nature’ or ‘god’ or ‘fate’ or whatever, but I don’t. I believe in the magic of the science that has made this possible in my lifetime. Not a synthetic baby, but a baby unlike any other. Ours. Our baby.